Para rifle-shooter Sidhartha Babu speaks to The Better India about what it takes to become a national record-holding shooting champion.
Sidhartha Babu talks about shooting the way Sun Tzu would speak about war. There is so much deliberation and thought behind each word he uses to describe this sport that one wonders what it might be like to actually watch him in action.
His fascination with rifles began pretty early in his life; as a child he would make fake guns out of plastic. As an adult he began practising kickboxing, Thai martial arts and won several prizes in karate. This Black Belt even became a professional instructor at Jawahar Bal Bhavan in Kerala.
But his life took a drastic turn in July 2002 when he was thrown off his motorbike in an accident, leaving him a paraplegic.
The outdoorsy man was left bedridden for almost a year but, even during this time, he made sure he was constantly in touch with shooting – by making a crossbow in his hospital room.
“Me and a friend who was also paralysed and stuck made this crossbow. We asked the hospital staff to cut off a particular branch of a tree which looked like a crossbow stock with a nice pistol grip, and we made a cross bow out of it. We made trigger mechanism and arrows with metal head using whatever tools and materials we could find in the hospital. My friend would open his room door which was opposite mine so we could have more distance to the target. When the nurses would visit us, they’d yell at us to not shoot any more arrows,” he chuckles as he reminisces.
By the time he got back home, he had had enough time to think deeply about what he wanted to do. He decided to pursue a computer applications course at the College of Engineering in Trivandrum and secured a job soon after. But his thirst to do better or “to do what society doesn’t project at you” took over and he began target shooting. He started practising at home and would use up at least 100 air rifle pellets every day.
When Sidhartha approached the District Rifle Association in Idukki, he was initially denied entry. Later, when the authorities there asked him to shoot with a pistol, he refused because he only used a rifle. He finally hit bull’s eye while shooting lying down and was soon admitted into the club.
Despite having no formal training or even a coach, Sidhartha went on to win numerous state and national-level shooting championships. He says, “The fact of the matter is that I’m still looking for a coach. I’ve managed all this because I happen to be very driven. But I think having a coach, mental health experts and a team to back you up is really important, especially for international events.”
Sidhartha has participated multiple times in the National Shooting Championship under the general category. Despite this, in 2015, the National Rifle Association of India did not permit him to participate in the National Games because of the technical difficulty in the shooting rules to accommodate an out of the rule equipment, in this case the wheelchair. He says, “I was definitely disheartened because I got this information very late, few weeks before the competition and it was shocking that nobody raised such a problem in the past years or refunded the money spent on registering under both the general and para shooting category. And they also told me that letting me participate in earlier events was a mistake. But without waiting for a single day I decided to leave the wheelchair and shoot like mainstream shooters.”
But his recent achievement of being the Kerala Shooting Champion at an event organised by the Kerala State Rifle Association, while competing against able-bodied athletes, means that he can participate in any shooting event under the general category. He has been practising shooting while lying down for around a year and it is really challenging. He says, “It took backbreaking effort to get where I am.”
The shooter has requested the government to send him abroad for international training so he can represent the country at the 2020 Paralympics. He says, “I need to participate and win medals in international events to be eligible for the Paralympics.”
Sidhartha does feel there is a lack of support on the part of various sports organisations in the country that are supposed to propel Indian athletes to greater heights. He says, “For the first time in the history of Indian sport, after a disappointing performance at the Olympics, the National Rifle Association issued an enquiry to understand why we failed. Abhinav Bindra, who not only won the first individual Olympic gold medal for India in shooting but is also trained in sports psychology, headed the committee. He formed a committee to understand how to improve sports infrastructure and they submitted a report few days ago. It is a comprehensive guide for how sports bodies in India can function optimally and I think both athletes as well as sports organisations should definitely read it.”
To read the report, click here.